Frustration grows as officials warn Ottawa school bus driver shortage could last months
OTTAWA -- Students in the capital have now been back in class for weeks but a school bus driver shortage isn't getting any better and could last months.
It's yet another roadblock for students and parents amid an already challenging pandemic school year.
Just weeks in, a worsening school bus driver shortage in Ottawa has left thousands of students without bus transportation to school.
"My son and daughter got their buses actually at the start of the school year and somehow they just got cancelled after one and a half weeks or two weeks, what has happened I don't understand," said Atif Sidiqqi, whose kids' buses have been cancelled.
Saddiqi is driving his kids to school, taking turns with neighbours when he can to share the burden. He says taking public transportation would take his kids hours.
"It's quite frustrating because COVID has been here for two years now and OSTA has enough time to plan these things," said Saddiqi.
The Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA) said since July more than 100 permanent drivers have quit, and only 46 new drivers have been deployed.
"We still have drivers who are concerned about their health and who are looking with trepidation to whether they should return to not," said Vicky Kyriaco, General Manager and CAO of the OSTA.
One hundred and fourteen routes and 484 runs have been cancelled, leaving more than 3,000 students to rely on OC Transpo.
The city's west end has been hardest hit.
"The service demands are much higher than the supply, we have a reduction of drivers but an increase in numbers of students who need transportation," said Kyriaco.
The authority warns the issue could last weeks if not months.
"Is it sustainable to expect retirees to be our main pool or candidates? Do we have to look at changing what the wage structure could be with out operators," Kyriaco said.
The OSTA said as drivers become available, rural routes and low-income school communities will be prioritized.
Parents are hopeful for a solution before the colder weather hits.
"For sure my frustration will go up if this stays during winter time, if I have to this while there's snow or freezing rain outside," said Siddiqi.